To Spank Or Not to Spank


We’ve heard it said that if you spare the rod, you’ll spoil the child. Well, that’s the opposite of what a recent study suggests. Among parents, educators, and state legislators, the question of spanking has been controversial in recent years. This study suggests that spanking children between age 1 and 2 may be more detrimental than helpful. But could this study be flawed in some way? I think so.

The researchers on the study looked at 2,500 toddlers from low-income families. The reason they selected low-income families, according to Lisa Berlin, the lead author and research scientist at the Center for Child and Family Policy at Duke University, is that previous studies revealed that the majority of those who spanked their children were low-income families. Here’s Berlin’s explanation of the low-income spanking phenomenon:

“The new study focused on children from low-income families because prior research suggested that spanking is more common among them… This may be because of the added stresses of parenting in a low-income situation, or because of a ‘cultural contagion’ of behaviors among people. For example, in some families this study examined, a grandmother would spank a child, or neighbors would encourage physical discipline.”

Previous studies have claimed that children who are spanked are more likely to become more aggressive and violent. They also have shown that parents who spank their children are more likely to be less educated, single, and stressed or depressed. They also tended to be from the South and identify themselves as “conservative Christians.” Well, this is interesting. The implications here seem to be that uneducated “religious” poor people are the only ones who don’t know any better than to spank their kids. I disagree. But, with that aside, what exactly did this study prove?

Not much. According to Berlin,

“The new research refutes the idea that more aggressive children are more likely to be spanked. On the other hand, the study did find that children who were fussier at age 1 were more likely to be spanked and verbally punished.”

I don’t think anyone condones beating or abusing a child. However, I’m not so sure that a little pop on the hand or bottom is “detrimental.” Somehow I don’t see what’s so life-changing in what they’re saying. And, apparently, I’m not alone. Other researchers disagree with the premise.

Robert Larzelere, associate professor of human development and family science at Oklahoma State University, conducted his own study of 26 other studies. And what we don’t hear much in education and media circles is this simple finding:

“Overall, spanking seemed more effective than 10 of 13 alternative disciplinary methods for getting a child to behave or do as asked.”

Larzelere went on to say that there is no definitive cause-and-effect relationship between spanking and aggressive behavior. As a matter of fact, children who were spanked were just as likely to be aggressive as children taken to see a psychologist.

I suppose I should offer a disclaimer: I was spanked as a child. Not much, but I was. And I’d like to believe I turned out okay. As far as violent behavior, I slapped my brother once when he was hanging around a really bad crowd, came home drunk, and called me a name I cannot repeat on this website. That was the one time I exhibited violence. Was it because I was spanked? I think not.

What bothers me is the presumption that only young, uneducated people spank their children. Whether you spank your children or not is not so much the issue for me. However, I resent all the “studies” that don’t prove anything and yet continue to claim that it hurts children to smack them on the hand. I don’t buy it.

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